Tales of a Chinaman, from rags to riches
 
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Tales of a Chinaman, from rags to riches

by Kelvin Liew Peng Chuan
(Tanjong Tokong,Penang, Malaysia)

Phor Phor's family members. In the middle is the Patriach of the family, the late Chee Wor Lok.

Phor Phor's family members. In the middle is the Patriach of the family, the late Chee Wor Lok.

This is a tale from my late granny,about her dad. She was the first daughter of Chee Wor Lok, a well known community leader who hailed from Toi San, Canton, China.A story that tells of the heydays when poor Chinaman coming to Namyong with nothing but just the clothes on his back..and later making it big.

He arrived here when he was a mere lad of 10 in the late 19th century. He and many other mainland Chinese migrants braved the high seas in a tongkang hoping to make a fortune here to lessen the burden of his family back in the village in Thoi San.The first thing he did when he arrived in Penang was to severe the 'pig-tail' he kept..the long hair tied back, a sign of slavery to the manchus.He was no more a Manchurian subject,he is a free man!

Knowing not a word of English,he became the first non-Straits born Chinese to enroll in a mission school, St Xavier's Institution. With the brothers' and teachers' constant encouragement, he made it through the education system and was fond of Brother James, one of the brothers in St Xaviers.He became one of the few educated non-Straits born Chinese in Penang.

For a Chinaman to be educated is not a small matter to his community, the closely-knit Cantonese.He became their reference for almost any official matters and latter he was awarded the Justice of Peace JP award.

He started a small bussiness selling plates at Jual Murah the present Chowrasta..so you can guess how old is Chowrasta area!!! and later expanded his bussines. With his educated status,it wasn't difficult for him to secure bussines deals.

He bought himself a bungalow and he got married to a local Penang Nyonya...perhaps way back in 1910..coz my granny was born in 1911. My granny was his first child. He got married to his second wife after my granny's mom passed on.For all i can remember, I've got 8 grandaunts..and perhaps 5 granduncles...I'm quite blur....because i was never close to my grand uncles. Look at the attached picture, looks like everyone's there.



His mother visited him once in a while..all the way from Canton..her tale will come later. A filial child he was, when he received a telegram informing him of his mother's demise in China, he dressed his family members in mourning clothes. Corresponding to the hour of the funeral in China, he stopped all bussines dealings, got his children excused from school and had everyone kneel down in mourning with lit joss sticks in front of his mother's photo.

Though he made it big, he was charitable like many tycoons of his time,notably Aw Boon Par. He made it a point for his children to taste and see the life of a commoner. He frequently brings his children to Pun Nong Keok, a welfare association that takes in single mothers and also Leper's Home to do charity. He also contributed to the Toi San Wooi Koon Toi San Association, Kun Nyam Miu Kuan Yin Temple..in Pitt Street and Thin Kong Thong The Jade Emperor Temple at the foot of Penang Hill and the ever famous Kek Lok Si.

It was said that Kek Lok Si has a life size statue of their benefactors, and among them was that of granny's dad.

Well,that's the tale of a Chinaman coming to Penang, his values in life and his success.Had he given to his reluctance to learn English, nothing would materialize and of course,the name Chee Wor Lok would not appear in the book 'The Prominent People of Penang'..he would just be another Chinaman next door.


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Tales of a Chinaman, from rags to riches

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Jul 16, 2012
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Life-sized statues of benefactors NEW
by: Jennifer

Hi, has anyone been up to see these life-sized statues of the benefactors of Kek Lok Si, please? I was told that my great-great-grandfather was one of them, though not the Big 5!
Thank you for your help.j

Jul 12, 2011
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Penang Peranakans,Ah Ba Koh & Ah Nia Cee
by: kelvin liew peng chuan

To Mr/Ms Anonymous who dared to comment on Penang Peranakans,here's the true picture,coming from a quarter Peranakan,having a Peranakan Ah Mah & Peranakan Uncle [Ah Teo].

Do bear in mind the Penang Peranakan lingo is different,having a language that is largely Hokkien,with about 25% consisting of Malay words popping up here and there in almost every sentence.

In my family,we speak a noticable different form of Hokkien from that of the majority in Penang.Malay expressions as in 'amboi', 'kah', come in naturally as we converse. Go visit a typical Penang Hokkien home,you'll notice the difference.

Aug 24, 2010
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Baba Nyonya or Nyonya alone
by: Anonymous

Dear Michelle & Kelvin,


Have you ever heard any conversation from a true blue peranakan family(Baba or Nyonya)before this??
Who only speak 95% Malay's peranakan language and 5% Hokkien dielect most of time. Between chinese and chinese, speak only Malay?? Can you see any in Penang??(Unless they from Sekolah Kebangsaan) There's huge distinct differences between the Malacca and Penang Peranakan from language till food.(Nyonya restaurant serve Bak Kut Teh).One of the difference is that Penang peranakan speak more chinese dialects whereas if you compare with those in Malacca and Indonesia. Other generally they can't, because Penang speak North/utara Malay dialect "Pi mai pi mai tang tu".
Talking about pantun.....can you imagine, Sonnet 18 in a foreign dialect??

I strongly believe,from the beginning,those lucky chinaman who had married locally born nyonys which from (Malacca and Batavia,Pontianak,Medan ext)and try to en-shire their Boss or father in-law empire in this new free port island 11 August 1768.


Mar 24, 2010
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Peranakan Culture of penang
by: Michelle

Dear Adrew,

I am very offended by your comments. Where do you hail from? do you know anything about the history of the peranakan. Have you ever live in Penang and do a research on the peranakan in Penang. As l am a descendant of peranakan from Melaka who migrated to Penang, l take that as an insult to all peranakans of Penang.My advice to you, please do a research into the history of the migration of the babas and nyonyas before throwing casual comments. For your information, My first degree was history and this topic is very close to heart.
I hope, in future, do your research before giving comments in any field.

From a nyonya,
Michelle

Mar 24, 2010
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re : N'drew
by: Kelvin

dear N'drew,

I'd like to comment a little on your general comment on the Penang Peranakan people. We have got our own special dialect, technically called the 'Peranakan Hokkein' by the linguists. Please check out books by Johnny Chee and other prolific writers on the subject. We have,in fact retained more Hokkien words, but the tone of the Penang Peranakan lingo is similar to that of Malay,and many Malay words like 'amboi', 'cilaka' , 'sombong', 'batu', 'lusum' [lesung], 'kueh' etc made its way into our lingo.

Talking about pantun,is dondang sayang a sort of pantun? if it is, then the late Baba June, the dondang sayang maestro, the medium of tok nenek, is one evidance of Baba involvement in 'pantun'.

So..i really hope you can retract your statement denying Penang of its Peranakan heritage [by saying there's no Baba in Penang].

During the heydays of Peranakan culture,in the 60s, many Penang peranakans still had ronggeng and dondang sayang occasionally, notably during weddings.

FYI, the mansion is in front of the Penang Anglo Chinese Girl's school.

Mar 22, 2010
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Zero to Hero
by: N'drew

Before the British found Straits Settlement, those chinaman came to South East Asia mainly Batavia,Medan,Malacca and Phuket to seek their fortune and empire. They work as collies and married to their employer daughters. Most of the employer are from the Peranakan families which they had been settle down in Far East long before the era of Portuguese and by telling lies that they still single. Actually thier wife waiting in China!

By helping their father-in law to expended the family business into the new opened port of Penang and Spore, it's also helping them-self build an empire.
If you notices in Penang there's only famous with those Nonya but not Baba, who know who to sing pantun and speak Baba's Malay language like Baba Malacca and Indonesia.There are no Baba in Penang, cause they are the Chinaman who wanted to enjoy the life style like their In-law.

Best example was the Chung Fatt Sze and more.

By the way, where's the mansion on that pic above??

Jul 07, 2009
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excellent
by: Peter

This is the kind of stories I love to hear... every Chinese I talk to has them, no one wants to write them down (well... only a rare few). Truth is that this kind of stories are so much part of Penang and it seems people do not understand the relevance of these stories.

These people show that what you really want you can achieve. Regardless you're poor, strange country, race, religion etc. It's a lesson in persistence. Nothing is impossible, not then and certainly not nowadays too.

Jul 07, 2009
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Wow, what an inspiring story!
by: Nazlina

Kelvin,

this is the kind of drive and determination that make Penang rich.. I am truly amazed.

Thanks for sharing.

-Nazlina

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